LouAnn Jacobson

LouAnn JacobsonMeet LouAnn Jacobson. A seasoned professional with over 30 years of public lands stewardship under her belt, she works for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in a region of Southwest Colorado that is blanketed with evidence of thousands of years of Native American occupation.

Jacobson is the manager of the 166,000-acre Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and its Anasazi Heritage Center, an area with more than 6,000 recorded archaeological sites. In some places, there are up to 100 sites per square mile.  In her 15-year career here that she has emerged as a national leader for model public lands stewardship. Her focus on innovative partnerships and landscape-scale management have gradually paved the way for what is a true anomaly in her field: 100% completion of resource surveying.

However, many land managers today find themselves in a much different situation where, because of severe funding shortfalls, surveying just isn't feasible. The result? A dangerous lack of resource information that diminishes their ability to protect the land under their purview.  

Jacobson joined PreservationNation for a Q&A to share details about her ongoing efforts to survey Canyons of the Ancients and her advice for both land managers and Washington decision makers.

If her answers to our questions teach us anything, it’s that the managers who are getting their hands dirty on the ground to protect our country’s scared lands simply can’t do it alone. In addition to support from local and state communities and governments, they need strong advocates in Washington who will provide the funding and the tools necessary to keep our cultural resources – many of which we don’t even know about yet – safe for future generations.

Your job aside, what do you love most about Canyons of the Ancients?

The backcountry solitude, the huge landscape views of the Great Sage Plain, the sense of discovery that I have every time I'm in the field, even at places I've visited many times. I want to look at every artifact that I see so I'm constantly dashing off in different directions. Every sherd has a beautiful design, and when you put everything together, you learn something about the people who once lived here.

What has been your biggest challenge in protecting Canyons of the Ancients and its resources?

Definitely balancing expectations. Evaluating impacts and protecting resources on a landscape scale has been very difficult. At any given moment, you have to protect cultural and natural resources, honor valid rights for oil and gas operations, and respect tribal values. This requires thinking beyond compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and has resulted in a lot of controversy. Traditionally, Section 106 requires excavation as a way to mitigate impacts to cultural resources, which the tribes regard as impacting their ancestral spirits and homes. We've learned that written consultation just doesn't work when we have a particularly difficult project with lots of cultural sites. We need to get tribal representatives on the ground so they can see things for themselves and make recommendations. We need to get everyone together in the field…archaeologists, tribal representatives, oil and gas representatives, and other BLM specialists. Once that happens, we are able to do a better job of figuring out project design and logistics.

Unlike many of the country's public lands, Canyons of the Ancients is on track to become 100% surveyed. Tell us how that came about.

Fortunately, we inherited a place that's been interesting to the public and archaeologists for over 130 years. One of my favorite stories goes back to the early 1900s when Edgar Hewitt – most likely standing on Cannonball Mesa with views hundreds of miles in all directions – waved his arms at Alfred Kidder and Sylvanus Morley and said, "I want you boys to make an archaeological survey of this region. I'll be back in six weeks. You'd better get some horses." That's how long ago inventory in this area began, and curiosity hasn't waned since.

BLM also contributed to the inventory with some large projects in the 1960s, '70s and '80s that were related to early resource management planning efforts and preparations for a large CO2 development project. There are also smaller inventories for oil and gas wells and pipelines along the way. We're also lucky to have an organization like Crow Canyon in the neighborhood, which has been doing cutting-edge research for 25 years now. These projects reflect the beginnings of landscape-scale management, as well as investigating the integrated relationships of sites with one another.

When the Monument was established, we were able to complete a large inventory in a popular recreation area so that we could evaluate the impact to the sites. Most recently, we were fortunate to receive funding through BLM's National Landscape Conservation System to begin comprehensive, large-scale inventories. We've prioritized areas based on the potential for impacts from vandalism and multiple use, as well as "black holes" where we have no inventory at all. That inventory is underway, but won't be completed until the snow melts in the spring. So far, they've recorded more than 150 sites. We will continue with another large block inventory in 2009. However, given the size of the Monument and our current pace, 100% inventory will take about 40 years to complete.

What advice would you give other public lands managers who, because of funding constraints, are facing an outlook that is not as promising?

Explore partnerships that come with funding opportunities. Pitch the significance of your resources to the academic community. For example, Crow Canyon and Washington State University recently completed a very important project funded by the National Science Foundation called the Village Project, which resulted in a major synthesis of information, multiple professional papers and publications, and computer modeling. Also, think beyond professionals. We've done some great projects with volunteers and elder hostel participants. This requires more supervision and time, but can be worthwhile with good results.